Crisis Communication: Create An Effective Plan

crisis communicationCrises occur more often than you might think, and usually when you least expect them. Not knowing how to communicate during a crisis can take the situation from bad to worse. Read to learn essential information about crisis communication, including how to create your own crisis communication plan.

What is Crisis Communication?

Crisis communication refers to the systems that allow organizations to convey information effectively in the event of a crisis situation. This is any event that could harm people, property, or your brand reputation. The goal is to offer clear, accurate, and timely information to your stakeholders. This helps to mitigate any negative impacts.

Why is Having a Crisis Communication Plan so Important? 

No matter how large or small your organization is, a plan is critical to ensuring business continuity. For individuals, it can also help you recover from a personal reputation crisis. Crises can strike at any time, so having a plan helps you stay one step ahead.

Many organizations are under-prepared. According to Forbes, only 49% of companies have a formal communication plan in place. 28% have an informal plan, and 23% either do not have one or aren’t sure if one exists.

are organizations prepared for a crisis

Most organizations are not adequately prepared for a crisis situation. Less than half say they have a formal crisis communication plan in place.

This is despite data to suggest that having a plan works. 98% of businesses who have used their plan say it was effective. A further 84% said they would have practiced even more in advance (Capterra). So, the earlier you start on this, the better.

are crisis communication plans effective

The overwhelming majority of businesses who have used their crisis communication plan say that it was effective. 84% of them said they wished they had practiced their plan even more in advance of the crisis.

Having a response plan in place can mean the difference between protecting your brand’s reputation or not.

How To Create a Crisis Communication Plan

Developing a crisis communication plan from scratch might sound daunting. However, having this plan firmly in place is critical for effective management. Here are the steps to create a plan:

Anticipate what crises could happen

Organizations can experience several types of PR Crises, and you need to prepare for each of them. If you don’t know where to start, the good (or not so good) news is that many crises are predictable.

The most common causes of organizational crises are:

  • Mismanagement (25-30%)
  • Discrimination (14%)
  • Cyber crime (13%)
  • Labor disputes (9%)
  • Sexual harassment (9%)
  • Natural disasters and catastrophes (8%)
  • White collar crime (5%)
  • Whistleblowing (5%)

In your planning document, create detailed scenarios for each type of event you are likely to experience. Describe what could happen, how it might unfold, and the potential consequences and impact.

causes of organizational crisis

Organizational crises are actually very predictable. About 25-30% of crises are caused by mismanagement. With this data, you can plan for the types of crises most likely to affect your organization.

Depending on your industry, you may face different reputation threats. Keep an eye on industry-specific trends by attending conferences, joining industry-specific associations, and subscribing to relevant publications. To anticipate new threats, you should also monitor broader economic conditions, regulatory changes, and technological advancements.

Outline your objectives

Defining your objectives from the start ensures an effective crisis management strategy. This provides a clear direction for your organization as you create the plan in detail. For each objective, you should:

  • List the specific actions needed to achieve the objective
  • Identify the people responsible for each action
  • Define how you measure the success of each objective

Objectives can include:

  • Ensuring the safety and well-being of employees, customers, and other stakeholders
  • Delivering timely and accurate information to relevant stakeholders
  • Maintaining transparency with stakeholders
  • Protecting and managing the organization’s reputation
  • Ensuring business continuity
  • Coordinating communication efforts across departments
  • Managing public perception by engaging with the media and the public
  • Addressing stakeholder concerns
  • Ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements

Set up communication protocols

Establishing communication protocols helps to ensure a quick, effective, and coordinated response. Use these tips:

  • Establish your crisis management team by selecting team members from various departments (HR, PR, Legal, IT, C-Suite, etc). Define each person’s role and responsibility (crisis manager, spokesperson, media liaison, internal communications coordinator, etc). Maintain an updated list of contact information for each person.
  • Establish procedures for initial notification. Identify a “trigger event” that activates the plan. When someone  identifies a crisis, they report to the Crisis Manager who then activates the crisis management team.
  • Establish a system of information gathering. This is where you gather the facts about what happened, when and where it happened, and immediate actions taken. Verify gathered information from reliable sources. With the facts, assess the severity and potential impact.
  • Establish a chain of command for decision-making and message approval. Detail the process for drafting, reviewing, and approving and messages for stakeholders. Relevant departments (PR, Legal, etc) should review all communications before release.

Choose the right spokesperson

When sharing information with stakeholders and the media, you need the right person to do it. You can have the right message, but you need the right spokesperson to convey that message.

Consider choosing someone from senior management, such as the CEO, COO, and another high-ranking executive. However, you should match the spokesperson’s expertise to the nature of the crisis. For example, in a data breach, you could select the head of IT as your spokesperson.

Other than that, look for these qualities in your spokesperson:

  • Media savvy, with the ability to stay on message
  • Positive body language and can stay calm under pressure
  • Knowledgeable about the situation, can demonstrate competence and expertise
  • Communicate openly and honestly
  • Optimistic while also conveying empathy and caring, sensitive to public concerns

The most important thing is that the public must believe that the spokesperson is competent, credible, and has their best interest in mind.

Choose the best channels to reach your stakeholders

In times of crisis, you want every stakeholder to feel that you value them and are listening to their concerns. To do this effectively, you have to tailor your messages and communicate with them in the right way.

crisis communication outreach

Among businesses who reported having a strong crisis communication plan, key elements were outreach to employees (71%), outreach to customers (63%), and outreach to key constituents (53%). (Source: HubSpot)

Certain situations  affect certain stakeholders more than others, depending on the situation. Prioritize getting information to the most affected stakeholder groups. Alter your messages to suit each stakeholder’s specific needs and concerns. Organizations have two basic groups of stakeholders they need to communicate to:

Internal stakeholders, including all employees, management, owners/shareholders, board members, etc. Use these channels:

  • Internal emails
  • Meetings/conferences (virtual or in-person)
  • Intranet updates
  • Employee hotlines
  • Detailed reports

External stakeholders, including customers/clients, suppliers, investors, regulatory bodies, the local community, the media, competitors, advocacy groups, etc. Use these channels:

  • Emails/newsletters
  • Website and social media sites
  • Customer service hotlines
  • Vendor conference calls or supplier portals
  • Investor calls/meetings
  • Press releases (keep reading for our pdf template that includes messaging templates)
  • Press conferences
  • Media kits
  • Official reports or formal letters for regulatory bodies
  • Community messages/support initiatives

11 Key Tips for Effective Crisis Communication

Effective communication can minimize the long-term negative effects to your business and reputation. When you need to execute your plan, follow these crisis communication strategies.

Using your crisis communication plan

  • Document the plan in detail. Everyone in your organization should be able to easily read and understand the plan. Offer clear, step-by-step instructions so your team can act upon it when needed. Everyone should understand exactly what they need to do.
  • Distribute the plan. Offer both digital and physical copies of the plan. All employees should be able to easily access it, especially those directly involved in crisis management. Ensure everyone has the most recently updated copy.
  • Test the plan. Senior management should communicate the importance of the plan. Introduce the plan with initial training sessions. Conduct regular simulation drills both to practice and identify areas for improvement.

Responding to a crisis

  • Respond quickly and give regular updates. When a crisis occurs, acknowledge it as soon as possible. Offer initial information and give timely updates when new information becomes available. The later you leave your response, the less sincere you come across.
responding to a business crisis

29% of businesses who have already experienced a crisis say that next time they would execute a more timely and robust communications plan. (Source: HubSpot)

  • Be transparent and honest. Be upfront instead of hiding information from the public. Avoid speculation, but clearly state what you know and what still needs investigation.
  • Take responsibility. Even if your organization is not directly at fault, you still must take accountability for fixing it. Outline the steps taken to rectify the situation.
  • Show empathy and concern to key stakeholders. Acknowledge the impact and express empathy for those affected. Outline what you are doing and provide resources to those affected.
  • Maintain a unified message. Internal coordination is key, so inform all members about the communication strategy. Use key messages and talking points to maintain a unified message.
  • Use multiple channels. Ensure you reach all stakeholders by using a variety of channels. Remember to tailor messages for different platforms and audiences.
  • Monitor and respond to feedback. Monitor social media and online conversations about the situation. Respond timely to any concerns, questions, or false information.
  • Focus on solutions. Emphasize the steps your organization is taking to fix the crisis and prevent future problems. Reassure stakeholders about your commitment to addressing their concerns.

Crisis Communication Plan Template (PDF)

What exactly should you include in your crisis communication plan? Use our handy Crisis Communication Plan Template PDF for a more detailed outline. Feel free to change it to suit your needs, however every plan includes these elements:

  1. An introduction that outlines the purpose, scope, and objectives.
  2. A list of potential scenarios and risk assessments for each.
  3. Details about your team, including the structure and contact information.
  4. Details about internal and external stakeholders.
  5. Information about communication protocols, including the decision-making and approval process.
  6. Messaging templates for press releases, social media posts, and internal communications.
  7. Details about your communication channels, including media contacts, digital platforms, and internal communication tools.
  8. Information about monitoring tools and response strategies.
  9. Details about conducting training programs and mock drills.
  10. Regular reviews and post-crisis evaluations.
  11. Appendices for contact lists and additional resources.

Conclusion: Crisis Communication Plan

The most critical part of your crisis communications is having a solid plan in place. Are you in need of further assistance preparing for a crisis? Reputation911 can offer a helping hand for your business during any challenge.

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Creating a formal business crisis management plan helps both employers and employees gain peace of mind in trying times. Contact us for a free consultation today.

About The Author

William DiAntonio is the Founder & CEO of Reputation911, a reputation management firm he founded in 2010 that has earned the trust of its clients for over a decade by helping individuals, businesses and brands control their online search results.

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